North Korea appears to have fired a ballistic missile at around 3:00am local time on Wednesday morning (13:30 Tuesday ET) — the first time the Hermit Kingdom has launched a rocket since September 15.
According to the Yonhap News Agency in South Korea, the missile flew east from the Pyongyang area toward the Sea of Japan. The South Korean military officials claim that they fired an immediate “precision strike” missile in response, although it is not known what exactly they were targeting.
The United States military is currently investigating the launch data in order to ascertain what kind of missile was fired. Pyongyang has been developing technology that will ultimately enable its intercontinental ballistic missiles to safely re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, allowing for a targeted strike on the U.S. mainland.
Japan’s NHK international news network reported that the Japanese military defense unit believe the missile again landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Prime Minister’s Office for Disaster and Crisis Management posted a report on Twitter saying: “North Korea launched a missile that has the possibility of arriving in the exclusive economic zone of our country.”
North Korea fired an intermediate-range KN-17 ballistic missile in September which flew across the Sea of Japan, entered Japan’s Hokkaido Island territory, and then descended into the Pacific Ocean.
South Korea and Japan suspected that Pyongyang was preparing another missile test Monday, after both countries detected radar and radio signals indicating a potential launch. South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said yesterday: “Under close cooperation with our allies, such as the U.S. and Japan, our government is paying attention to the possibility of North Korea’s additional provocation and maintaining a thorough readiness posture.”
Later that day, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon announced that North Korea is close to achieving “full nuclear capability” and will soon be able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead.
“North Korea has been developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace. We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a clear force within one year,” he told Yonhap News Agency.
Earlier this month, Johns Hopkins University’s North Korea analysis website, 38 North, also reported that commercial satellite imagery showed Pyongyang is on an “aggressive schedule to build and deploy its first operational ballistic missile submarine”. The submarine could ultimately carry the newly-developed ICBM equipped with a nuclear warhead.
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.